Today was the last full day of the 2022 Etgar 36 journey. We got on the bus at 9:30 AM to head to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum felt almost suffocating as I was walking through it. The atrocities kept getting worse with every panel I read, every photo I saw, and every video I watched. The museum seemed inescapable, which I found to be very powerful. Not only did it help portray what those in the Holocaust had to endure, but it also showed that if we don’t face the past, we’re never going to make progress.
After spending around two hours in the museum, we went to lunch. Some friends and I decided to walk a mile to a Chipotle instead of eating from the food trucks. From there, the group took the bus to the White House, which is always a surreal experience. We then went to the National Museum of American History at 3:00 PM. I wish I could say more about this museum, but I spent all my time in the gift shop and cafe because I was tired. At this point, the day was pretty much over. We had free time at the hotel and dinner at a local mall. Instead of eating, I just went shopping with a friend. At 8:30 PM, we had our concluding talk for the trip in which everyone spoke briefly about what Etgar 36 meant to them. Thirty-six days ago in Atlanta, Billy told us in our first meeting, “this is Etgar 36.” Today he concluded our discussion by saying, “that was Etgar 36.”
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about how I got to where I am now, sitting in my bed at 3:00 AM, teary-eyed, writing the last journal for a program that has changed my life. It all started on March 14th, 2021, in New York City. I was at lunch with my mom, my brother, my mom’s friend, and her daughter. I was talking about politics, and my mom’s friend mentioned that her son had gone on this political summer program a couple of years ago and that I might be interested. The program was called Etgar 36, and not long after that lunch, I applied for the trip. I couldn’t make it in 2021 because I had to be vaccinated for COVID, and I wasn’t eligible because of my age. Since I couldn’t do the program in 2021, I had to do it in 2022. Etgar 36 always seemed like something in the distance that would never actually come. I never processed the fact that I was going on the trip until the night before, and I then proceeded to think of everything that could go wrong. Despite my anxiety, my first day went incredibly well. I made friends with people I would hang out with for the rest of the trip. By the time the first week was over, I was so in love with Etgar 36 that the idea of leaving early seemed insane. I called my mom and got my trip extended for the full 36 days, which meant canceling a week of tennis camp. A part of me wants to write about all the unforgettable friendships I made from every single day of the journey, but that would take way too long. After 3-4 weeks, many of my friends left, so the bus felt a bit empty when we got to this last week. Now that it’s been 36 days, everyone is completely and totally exhausted. Nevertheless, we all tried to stay up as long as we could, trying to savor every last moment we had with each other. A close friend of mine tried their hardest to stay up for me, but by 1:00 AM, we both knew they had nothing left in them. I started tearing up as I said goodnight, and then I went back to my room and cried in the bathroom. My tears eventually dried, and then I went to my bed to start writing this journal.
It would be naive of me to say that I understand what Etgar 36 is. I feel that I will truly discover what it means to me as I get older. I have some vague ideas about the importance of conversation and love for one another, but once again, it will take time for me to get the full picture. It has been my honor to be on this journey and meet people I love so much. I thank Billy, Josh, Calle, Liora, Eli, Jared, and Sammy for making the 2022 Etgar 36 journey what it was. I can’t wait for my journey to continue, and I look forward to when I’ll ‘trip on the trip.’